Night Watch
Page 24

 Terry Pratchett

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'You're not drunk enough,' said Vimes. 'I should go home and sleep it off, if I was you.' The man's hand grasped the neck of the bottle. Here it comes, thought Vimes. By the look of him, the man had one chance in five ... Fortunately, the crowd wasn't too big yet. What you didn't need at a time like this was people at the back, craning to see and asking what was going on. And the lit-up Watch House was fully illuminating the lit-up man. 'Friend, if you take my advice you'll not consider that,' said Vimes. He took another sip of his cocoa. It was only lukewarm now, but along with the cigar it meant that both his hands were occupied. That was important. He wasn't holding a weapon. No one could say afterwards that he had a weapon. I'm no friend to you people!' snapped the man, and smashed the bottle on the wall by the steps. The glass tinkled to the ground. Vimes watched the man's face, watched the expression change from drink-fuelled anger to agonizing pain, watched the mouth open . . . The man swayed. Blood began to ooze from between his fingers and a low, thin animal sound escaped from between his teeth. That was the tableau, under the light - Vimes sitting down with his hands full, the bleeding man several feet away. No fight, no one had touched anyone ... he knew the way rumour worked, and he wanted this picture to fix itself in people's minds. There was even ash still on the cigar. He stayed very still for a few seconds, and then stood up, all concern.
'Come on, one of you help me, will you?' he said, tugging off his breastplate and the chain-mail shirt underneath it. He grabbed his shirt sleeve and tore off a long strip. A couple of men, jerked into action by the voice of command, steadied the man who was dripping blood. One of them reached for the hand. 'Leave it,' Vimes commanded, tightening the strip of sleeve around the man's unresisting wrist. 'He's got a handful of broken glass. Lay him down as gently as you can before he falls over but don't touch nothing until I've got this tourniquet on. Sam, go into the stable and pinch Marilyn's blanket for the boy. Anyone here know Doctor Lawn? Speak up!' Someone among the awed bystanders volunteered that they did, and was sent running for him. Vimes was aware of the circle watching him; a lot of the watchmen were peering around the doorway now. 'Saw this happen once,' he said aloud, and added mentally 'in ten years' time'. 'It was in a bar fight. Man grabbed a bottle, didn't know how to smash it, ended up with a hand full of shards and the other guy reached down and squeezed.' There was a satisfying groan from the crowd. 'Anyone know who this man is?' he added. 'Come on, someone must . . .' A voice in the crowd volunteered that the man could well be Joss Gappy, an apprentice shoemaker from New Cobblers. 'Let's hope we can save his hand, then,' said Vimes. 'I need a new pair of boots.' It wasn't funny at all but it got another of those laughs, the ones people laugh out of sheer frightened nervousness. Then the crowd parted as Lawn came through. 'Ah,' he said, kneeling down by Gappy. 'You know, I don't know why I own a bed. Trainee bottle fighter?'
'Looks like you've done the right things but I need light and a table,' said Lawn. 'Can your men take him into the Watch House?' Vimes had hoped it wouldn't come to that. Oh well, you had to make the best of it... He pointed randomly at figures in the crowd. 'You and you and you and you and you too, lady,' he said. 'You can help Fred and Waddy take this young man inside, okay? And you're to stop with him, and we'll leave the doors open, right? All you lot out here'll know what's going on. We've got no secrets here. Everyone understand?'
'Yeah, but you're a copper-' a voice began. Vimes darted forward and hauled a frightened young man out of the crowd by his shirt.
'Yeah, I am,' he said. 'And see that lad over there? He's a copper, too. His name's Sam Vimes. He lives in Cockbill Street with his mum. And that's Fred Colon, just got married, got a couple of rooms in Old Cobblers. And Exhibit C there is Waddy, everyone round here knows Waddy. Billy Wiglet there, he was born in this street. Have I asked you your name?'
'N-no . . .' the man mumbled. 'That's 'cos I don't care who you are,' said Vimes, letting the man go and looking round at the crowd. 'Listen to me, all of you! My name's John Keel! No one gets taken into this Watch House without me knowing why! You're all here as witnesses! Those of you I pointed out, you come on inside to see fair play all round. Do the rest of you want to hang around to see what happens to Gappy? Fine, I'll get Snouty to bring you out some cocoa. Or you can go home. It's a cold night. You ought to be in your beds. I know I'd like to be in mine. And, yes, we know about Dolly Sisters and we don't like it any more than you do. And we've heard about Dimwell Street and we don't like that, either. And that's all I've got to say tonight. Now . . . anyone who still wants to take a swing at a copper can step right up, if they want to. I've got my uniform off. We'll have a go, here and now, fair and square, in front of everyone. Anyone?' Something brushed his shoulder and clattered on the Watch House steps. Then there was the sound of slipping tiles from a roof on the other side, and a man fell off the roof and into the pool of light. There were gasps from the crowd, and one or two short screams. 'Looks like you got a volunteer,' said someone. There was the horrible nervous sniggering again. The crowd parted to let Vimes view the sudden arrival. The man was dead. If he hadn't been when he fell off the roof he was after he'd hit the ground, because no neck normally looked like that. A crossbow had fallen down with him. Vimes remembered the draught across his shoulder, and went back to the Watch House steps. It didn't take long to find the arrow, which had broken into several pieces. 'Anyone know this man?' he said. The crowd, even those members of it who hadn't been able to get a good look at the fallen bowman, indicated definite ignorance. Vimes went through the man's pockets. Every single one was empty, which was all the evidence of identification he needed. 'Looks like it's going to be a long night,' he said, signalling Colon to take this body inside, too. 'I've got to get on with my work, ladies and gentlemen. If anyone wants to stay, and frankly I'll be obliged if you do, I'll send some lads out to build a fire. Thank you for your patience.' He picked up his mail and breastplate and went back inside. 'What're they doing?' he said to Sam, without turning round.
'Some of them are wandering off but most of 'em are standing around, sarge,' said Sam, peering around the door. 'Sarge, one of them shot at you!'
'Really? Who says the man on the roof was one of them? That's an expensive bow. And he didn't have anything in his pockets. Nothing. Not so much as a used hanky.'
'Very odd, sarge,' said Sam loyally. 'Especially since I was expecting a piece of paper saying something like “I am definitely a member of a revolutionary cadre, ,, trust me on this”,' said Vimes, looking carefully at the corpse. BB 'Yes, that'd tell us he was a revolutionary all right,' said Sam. Vimes sighed and stared at the wall a moment. Then he said: 'Anyone notice anything about his bow?'
'It's the new Bolsover A7,' said Fred Colon. 'Not a bad bow, sarge. Not an Assassin's weapon, though.'
'That's true,' said Vimes, and twisted the dead man's head so they could see the tip of the little metal dart behind the ear. 'But this is. Fred, you know everyone. Where can I get some ginger beer at this time of night?'
'Ginger beer, sarge?'
'Yes, Fred.'
'Why do-' Colon began. 'Don't ask, Fred. Just get half a dozen bottles, all right?' Vimes turned to the desk on which, surrounded by a fascinated crowd, Dr Lawn was at work on the stricken Gappy. 'How's it going?' said Vimes, pushing through. 'Slower than it'd go if people got out of the damn light,' said Lawn, carefully moving his tweezers to a mug by Gappy's hand and dropping a bloody fragment of glass therein. 'I've seen worse on a Friday night. He'll keep the use of his fingers, if that's what you want to know. He just won't be making any shoes for a while. Well done.' There was general crowd approval. Vimes looked around at the people and the coppers. There were one or two muted conversations going on; he heard phrases like 'bad business' and 'they say that-' above the general noise. He'd played the cards well enough. Most of the lads here lived within a street or two. It was one thing to have a go at faceless bastards in uniform, but quite another to throw stones at old Fred Colon or old Waddy or old Billy Wiglet, who you'd known since you were two years old and played Dead Rat Conkers with in the gutter. Lawn put the tweezers down and pinched the bridge of his nose. 'That's it,' he said wearily. 'A bit of stitching and he'll be fine.'
'And there's some others I need you to take a look at,' said Vimes. 'You know, that comes as no surprise,' said the doctor. 'One's got a lot of holes in his feet, one dropped through the privy roof and has got a twisted leg, and one's dead.'
'I don't think I can do much about the dead one,' said the doctor. 'How do you know he's dead? I realise that I may regret asking that question.'
'He's got a broken neck from falling off a roof and I reckon he fell off because he got a steel crossbow bolt in his brain.'
'Ah. That sounds like dead, if you want my medical opinion. Did you do it?'
'Well, you're a busy man, sergeant. You can't be everywhere.' The doctor's face cracked into a grin when he saw Vimes go red, and he walked over to the corpse. 'Yes, I'd say that life is definitely extinct,' he said. 'And?'
'I want you to write that down, please. On paper. With official-sounding words like “contusion” and “abrasions”. I want you to write that down, and I want you to write down what time you found he was dead. And then if you don't mind two lads'll take you down to look at the other two, and after you've treated them, thank you, I'd like you to sign another piece of paper saying you did and I called you in. Two copies of everything, please.'
'All right. Dare I ask why?'
'I don't want anyone to say I did it.'
'Why should anyone say that? You told me he fell off a roof!'
'These are suspicious times, doctor. Ah, here's Fred. Any luck?' Corporal Colon was carrying a box. He put it down on his desk with a grunt. 'Old Mrs Arbiter didn't like being knocked up in the middle of the night,' he announced. 'I had to give her a dollar!' Vimes didn't dare look at Lawn's face. 'Really?' he said, as innocently as possible. 'And you got the ginger beer?'
'Six pints of her best stuff,' said Colon. There's three pence back on the bottles, by the way. And ... er. . .' He shuffled uneasily. 'Er . . . I heard they set fire to the Watch House at Dolly Sisters, sarge. It's very bad up at Nap Hill, too. And, er . . . the Chittling Street House got all its windows broke, and up at the Leastgate House some of the lads went out to stop kids throwing stones and, er, one of them drew his sword, sarge . . .'
'He'll probably live, sarge.' Dr Lawn looked about him at the crowded office, where people were still talking. Snouty was going round with a tray of cocoa. Out in the street, some of the watchmen were standing around a makeshift fire with the remnant of the crowd. 'Well, I must say I'm impressed,' he said. 'Sounds like you're the only Watch House not under siege tonight. I don't want to know how you did it.'
'Luck played a part,' said Vimes. 'And I've got three men who carry no personal identification whatsoever in the cells, and another anonymous would-be assassin who has been assassinated.'
'Quite a problem,' said Lawn. 'Now me, I just have to deal with simple mysteries like what the rash means.'
'I intend to solve mine quite quickly,' said Vimes. The Assassin moved quietly from roof to roof until he was well away from the excitement around the Watch House. His movements could be called cat-like, except that he did not stop to spray urine up against things. Eventually he reached one of the upper world's many hidden places, where several thickets of chimneys made a little sheltered space, invisible from the ground and from most of the surrounding roofscape. He didn't enter it immediately, but circled it for a while, moving with absolute silence from one vantage point to another. What would have intrigued a watcher who knew the ways of Ankh-Morpork's Guild of Assassins was how invisible this one was. When he moved, you saw movement; when he stopped, he wasn't there. Magic would have been suspected and, in an oblique way, the watcher would have been right. Ninety per cent of most magic merely consists of knowing one extra fact. At last the figure appeared satisfied, and dropped into the space. He picked up a bag from its nesting place between the smoking pots, and there was some faint swishing and heavier breathing that suggested clothes were being changed. After a minute or so he emerged from the hidden niche and now, somehow, he was visible. Hard to see, yes, one shadow among others, but nevertheless there in a way that he had not been before, when he'd been as visible as the breeze. He dropped lightly on to a lean-to roof and thence to the ground, where he stepped into a handy shadow. Then there was a further transformation. It was done quite easily. The evil little crossbow was disassembled and slipped into the pockets of a clink-free velvet bag, the soft leather slippers were exchanged for a pair of heavier boots that had been stashed in the shadow, and the black hood was pushed back.